Ah, email -- the ol’ faithful of internet correspondence. Instant messengers have come and gone, and email has outlived them all. An email address is like _______: everyone’s got one.
This is a family website so you’ll have to fill in the blank with your imagination.
It’s fairly easy to get someone’s email address. Most people have multiples, and they’re nonchalant about giving them out. One for work, one for school, a few for personal use -- used to be that you had one just for spam, but email service providers continually update their spam filters, so spam-only accounts aren’t so necessary anymore. (But people still have throwaways.)
This is the environment in which email marketers compete to attract, engage, nurture, and ultimately convert leads. It’s not easy: an email marketing campaign in which 25% of recipients opened the email would be boasting a very impressive open rate (in general, but also depending on the industry).
If you’re trying to learn how to create an email marketing campaign, these 7 steps will get you started in the right direction.
Step 1: Determine Your Goals.
If you’re like me, then when you get an idea in your head, you’re eager to rush out and put it into action. Slow down there! If you want your campaign to be successful, you’ve got to step back and think about what you’re trying to accomplish.
- If your website earns money on ad impressions, you’re probably trying to drive traffic. Your emails will likely contain links to popular or recent content on your site.
- If you sell products in an ecommerce store, you might be trying to drive sales. In this case, your emails might link to best sellers, promote new merchandise, welcome new members, or reward loyal ones.
- If you’re looking to bring attention to a cause, you might send out a newsletter with human interest stories, current events, details on community activities, or requests for donations.
Understanding your email marketing goals will guide your copy in the body of your emails. More on that later. But first….
Step 2: Choose an Email Marketing Platform.
There are a few ways you can go about doing this. If your email marketing needs are fairly simple, it’s possible your CRM provides email marketing features that fit your needs. However, if you’re looking to build self-sustaining email marketing campaigns with email triggers and autoresponders, you’ll probably want a dedicated email marketing service provider.
Here are a few well-known ones:
- MailChimp -- MailChimp allows you to send automated, targeted emails, track performance metrics, design templates with a drag-and-drop interface, and incorporate social media ad campaigns. It also integrates with major ecommerce platforms. MailChimp has a free version, while paid subscriptions start at $10/month.
- Mailify -- Mailify Sunrise is the newest version of the email marketing and marketing automation platform. This version brings new features, such as the possibility to create online forms linked to your contact lists or to easily create and send out SMS marketing. Mailify also offers a wide range of fully responsive templates to choose from. With a intuitive interface, you can easy create emails and landing pages that reflect your style with the drag and drop builder. The app is also integrated with Magento, Prestashop and Wordpress.
- GetResponse -- GetResponse offers email marketing, custom landing pages, and webinar marketing with solutions tailored to different industries. It integrates with popular ecommerce platforms, and its marketing automation scales for growing companies. Its basic email marketing package starts at $15/month, billed monthly, with discounts available for annual/bi-annual plans.
- Constant Contact -- Constant Contact offers highly effective email marketing with a bevy of mobile-responsive templates suited for various needs and industries. It tracks KPIs in real-time, simplifies list-building and contact management, and provides campaign ideas by industry. Constant Contact offers a 60-day free trial; paid subscriptions start at $20/month with annual discounts.
- ActiveCampaign -- ActiveCampaign offers email marketing and marketing automation with a drag-and-drop campaign builder. It enables highly-specific segmentation strategies by consolidating data from your integrated third-party apps. It provides detailed reports, optimization tools, and ecommerce integration. Subscriptions start at $9/month with annual discounts, and further discounts for non-profits.
- Campaign Monitor -- Campaign Monitor provides a library of professionally-designed email templates for branded email marketing. It offers a drag-and-drop campaign builder, dynamic content, optimization tools, and detailed tracking tools. It rates very highly in customer support -- touted as the “highest among major vendors” -- with 24/7 customer support. Campaign Monitor offers a very limited free version to get users started, while paid plans begin at $9/month. There are also pricing options to pay per campaign.
There are several other credible email marketing solutions not included on this list. It’s worth comparing vendors to determine which best meets your email marketing goals, fits within your budget, and can scale to accommodate your growth.
Step 3: Build and Segment an Email List.
Your list may have humble roots with only a few subscribers, but prospects are prospects. It’s tempting to buy an email and bulk-send cold emails (hey, it works for some people), but you probably already have a fair number of contacts floating around in your records. If you choose to build an email list from scratch, there are ways to do that, too.
Consolidate Your Contacts
The basic identifiers for someone’s digital existence is their name and their email address. If you’re trawling your database and encounter very old email addresses, fair warning -- emails tend to degrade. People change email addresses when they change jobs, change webmail providers, adopt a different handle, or simply change their throwaway, but don’t worry about this now. When your campaign is underway, you’ll be able to track unresponsive email addresses and cull them from your list.
Where should you look for gathering contacts? Here are a few ideas:
- Existing email list -- Of course, if this isn’t your first email marketing rodeo, then draw from your previous efforts at list-building.
- Email account -- Naturally, the first place you might look would be your present and former email accounts. Webmail accounts in particular make it easy for you to export your contacts, usually in CSV format.
- CRM -- If you use a CRM (and take steps to maintain clean data) then you’ll have a wealth of contact information in here. If it’s a fairly well-known CRM, there’s a good chance your email marketing service provider integrates with it already. If not, you can export your contacts in a CSV file.
- Contact management system -- Contact management apps can sync with your email, phone, and social media, so you might be able to get most of your contacts in one fell swoop. (Your CRM may have already replaced this, though.)
- Ecommerce platform -- Check your online store for current and past customers. Different platforms have different methods for exporting customers: depending on the solution, you may be able to export their purchase orders, their email addresses, and other relevant information. Check whether your email marketing solution integrates with your ecommerce platform.
You probably have more contacts than you think. Of course, the more prospects the better. Instead of buying an email list -- which might be full of expired addresses anyway -- check the next section for tips on growing your email list.
Build and Grow a List from Scratch
It’s possible that even after trawling your contact databases, your emailing list is emptier than a middle school dance floor. Not to worry, there are ways to build a database of contacts from scratch. It’ll take some work, but the good news is your list will probably be more current, with more relevant prospects, than if you scoured addresses from an old database.
1. Attract visitors with compelling content. Building organic traffic through inbound marketing (i.e. creating relevant content for your target audience and promoting it) is a slow but reliable way to build an email list. Better yet, these self-selected subscribers are more likely to have interest in your email campaigns.
2. Offer relevant, gated assets. This works well particularly for B2B email campaigns. If your company produces a white paper, case study, research report, etc. then you can make it available for free in exchange for an email address. You might collect a few throwaway accounts, but there’ll be a lot of work emails in there.
3. Make it easy to subscribe. Putting a nice call-to-action at the bottom of a custom landing page will attract conversions, especially if the visitor is coming from a targeted ad or promoted content.
4. Offer guarantees against spam. People are more likely to sign up for your newsletter, promotions, fundraising, and so on if you assure you won’t flood their inbox. If you offer subscribers an option to choose their level of engagement -- daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly -- make sure you respect that.
5. Offer promotions for subscribing. For example, new subscribers receive 15% off their next purchase and free shipping! Choose any promotion you want. This is a great way to build your list and also drive sales.
6. Use a Facebook call-to-action button. Facebook allows your company profile to contain a call-to-action button that you can customize to let prospects sign up for your email list. It’ll appear at the top of your business profile page alongside the like button. Another reason why you need a polished social media presence!
7. Tweet about the benefits of your email list. Promote the above -- gated content and promotions -- or simply the virtues of being on your email list to all of your followers. Set up an automation using a social media management platform (like Hootsuite) so new followers get a DM with a subscription link.
8. Include a subscription link in your email signature. There are dos and don’ts to email signatures, but you can find a way to include a subscription link. You probably won’t collect a huge amount of subscribers this way, but every little bit counts, right?
Segmenting Your Email List
Segmenting your email list lets you send highly-targeted emails to people based on their interests or demographic criteria. If it’s relevant to them, they’re more likely to open it; if they open it, there’s a chance they could convert.
Depending on your product or service, there are several data points you might consider when segmenting your audience. These include:
- Geography -- The physical location of your recipients by country, region, state, or city. This can help you tailor content specific to certain places or accommodate time zone differences.
- Demographics -- Demographic criteria includes age, gender, language, background, job title, or any other data points specific to an individual.
- Firmographics -- Firmographic criteria refers to characteristics regarding a company, such as headquarters, industry, revenue, and number of employees. This is particularly useful for B2B account-based marketing or sales.
- Past purchases -- This is useful for ecommerce retailers in particular. This can inform an email’s dynamic content or the nature of promotions personalized to recipients’ interests.
- Amount spent -- This is useful for encouraging customers to hit a threshold at which they gain benefits, or rewarding loyal customers with a discount.
- Position in sales funnel -- The abandoned shopping cart is the most well-known example. However, you can send emails customized to any stage of the buyer’s journey to push them farther down the funnel.
- Time since last purchase -- Win back past customers before they go cold. Offer them incentives to return, announce new merchandise, or preview upcoming sales.
- Expressed interests -- Send relevant content to the parties most interested based on interests they confirmed when subscribing to your emailing list.
- Email engagement -- Customers who opt to receive emails no more than, say, twice a month can have abbreviated bi-weekly newsletters sent to their inboxes with the top topics of that period.
Step 4: Create a Campaign and Build an Email.
Creating a campaign is fairly straightforward in an email marketing platform. There will usually be a page for campaigns; when you navigate to it, click the button that says ‘Create Campaign’ or something like it. There you go.
Depending on the provider, you’ll have a series of steps between this point and sending the email. You might need to choose recipients or a segmentation option. At some point, you’ll need to choose your template, which is where your creative juices can start flowing.
Whoops, now you’re staring at the template, wondering where to begin. Allow us to assist. Like roses on a trellis, sometimes artwork needs some structure.
Create the Header
Your header is where you put the information people see when they receive the email in their inbox. While the header contains the least amount of content, it may be the most important -- it’s what recipients will use to decide whether they open your email or not. Your header consists of three parts:
1. Sender Name -- People respond better when emails come from a personalized account. Instead of using your company name, which is impersonal, use a name linking back to the actual sender.
2. Subject Line -- Your subject line needs a hook. It should be short, personal, and action-oriented. Of course, the specific nature will depend on your goals and the nature of the email: are you sending a promotional offer, getting attention to a cause...? It’ll determine what you write. Think something like:
- “[Name], Claim Your One-Time Promo Code for 15% Off!”
- “Increase [Prospect Company]'s Sales Effectiveness in 3 Steps”
- “[Name], I’m Reaching Out Through [Referral].”
Notice how they’re personalized. This is deliberate: people respond positively to seeing their name.
3. Preheader -- The preheader is the blurb of text that appears under the subject line in the inbox preview. You can view it as an extension of the subject line, or include a call-to-action; however, be mindful that different mobile devices and email clients allow different text limits for preheaders.
Fill the Body
Getting your email recipients to open the email is the first hurdle, but it doesn’t end there. The next step is to get them to click through on one of the links in your page. You’re going to need a combination of effective visual and textual presentation. Here are some tips to help you along:
- Talk to your subscribers’ interests. Don’t talk at your subscribers, talk with them -- speak their language, address their pain points, show them authenticity. Your email subscribers get dozens of emails every day trying to sell them something. You’re trying to elicit action, and a purchase might be part of it, but don’t fall so easily into that crowd.
- Don’t go too text-heavy. People spend a very short time reading emails. You aren’t writing a novel. Keep it short, clear, simple, and direct.
- Include visuals. A picture is worth a thousand words. Put a banner image at the top, and smaller images sprinkled throughout depending on your campaign’s goals. Promotion? Include product pics. Human interest piece? Include a headshot or pictures from out in the field. High-definition is preferred.
- Format emails for readability. This depends on your readership. If you’re writing about a specialized, arcane topic, then your readers are probably more willing to read a dense paragraph. But most people aren’t. Break up paragraphs into lines of text; if the email seems too long, trim down the text.
- Keep your design consistent. Don’t switch templates mid-campaign. Some creative variations are okay, but your recipients should know what to expect.
- Include several calls-to-action. Don’t only put your CTA at the bottom of your email. Ensure your readers have several options to click through; phrase them differently so you don’t sound pushy or robotic.
Complete the Footer
Wrap up your email the right way -- don’t leave us hanging. You affirmed your mission in the conclusion of the body. The footer is where you sign off with ways for your reader to engage you in other channels. Here are three things you should definitely include in your footer:
1. Contact Information -- You’ll need to include your company’s physical address to comply with federal anti-spamming laws.
2. Social Media Links -- Add buttons that link to your company’s accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and any other social network you use.
3. Unsubscribe Links -- This is also required to comply with anti-spam laws, but don’t look at unsubscribes so negatively! It’s also valuable feedback that helps you optimize content to speak more to your target audience.
Step 5: Enable Autoresponders.
Alright, so you created your first email. Nice! But of course, you already know there’s a lot more to an email campaign than the first email. It’s time to automate that baby.
What is an autoresponder?
An autoresponder is a program that automates the sending of emails. The emails can be triggered by specific actions or timed for regular release. Autoresponders are used in email marketing to nurture leads, build trust, provide confirmation that data was received, and otherwise convey useful information about products, services, or promotions.
You’ll likely receive emails via autoresponder when you sign up for an email subscription, purchase items online, ask for customer service, or download an ebook. In fact, any digital company with a robust digital presence likely uses an autoresponder simply because they’re an excellent, cost-effective way to send relevant content to different customers are various stages in the customer journey without taking the time, energy, or brainpower to personally write each one.
What are autoresponders used for?
You can set up an autoresponder for nearly any occasion. As mentioned, they can be set for regular intervals -- such as an online course that sends content once a week, once daily, or on specific days of the week -- or they can be triggered by specific actions. Here’s a list of common uses for email autoresponders, as surveyed by MarketingSherpa:
- Welcome -- This refers to emails welcoming a new email subscriber, a new account holder, a new customer, etc. They’re usually brief, positive, and helpful. Welcome emails typically have fairly high open rates.
- Thanks -- These emails thank subscribers for certain actions, such as downloading a gated asset, completing a survey, or creating a referral. These are distinct from transactional emails (see below), but they are often correlated.
- Transactional -- Transactional emails include bills, receipts, and order confirmations. They’ll usually remind customers of certain order details, such as an invoice number or an expected delivery date.
- Activation -- If a new customer needs to click a link to activate their account, this email will contain that link. It might also include instructions on how to use their new product or service.
- Post-Purchase -- These emails follow up with customers after a purchase, usually for customer satisfaction surveys or a product or vendor review.
- Upsell / Cross-Promotional -- These emails recommend complementary or often-paired products with the ones the customer just purchased.
- Date Triggered -- These emails are triggered by notable dates like renewals, reorders, birthdays, or anniversary of subscription.
- Triggered by Website Behavior -- These emails are prompted by visits to particular pages, the length or number of visits, links clicked, etc. The email content can be tailored to the nature of their browsing activity.
- Event Countdown -- This reminds subscribers that a noteworthy event is coming. It informs them how many days or hours remain until launch as well as event-related details.
- Win-Back / Reengagement -- These emails seek to re-establish cold leads. They’ll offer promotions to spur browsing or shopping behavior, request a customer survey, or provide links to content related to the customers' known interests.
- Shopping Cart Abandonment -- These emails are one of the more famous types of autoresponders, and they remind leads they have unfinished business on your site. It might even offer a one-time discount to close the deal soon.
- Other -- There is a huge variety of occasions to send automated emails. The above list covers the better known portion, but there are always company-specific reasons to touch base with subscribers.
How should I plan content around autoresponders?
Email campaigns that incorporate autoresponders will go through a lot of content. It’s really up to you how much time, money, and effort you’re willing to invest into an email marketing campaign. Whether you create the content yourself, or you hire people to do it, there are a few strategies you can take to fill in the missing pieces. (Hybridize these plans as you deem necessary.)
- Create all-new content. Building out all-new content for your newsletters will be a task, but it can increase the perceived value of subscription for your readers. The ability to access exclusive content gives them reason to open each email. Whether they actually do depends on the quality of your content, but that’s another story.
- Repurpose old content. It’s unlikely that your subscribers have read every single post on your blog. If you’re organizing your newsletters around specific topics, trawl through your blog for relevant articles and post snippets in the email with links to the original pages. Alternatively, compile them for a re-write that takes a comprehensive look at the subject.
- Divvy up an ebook into sections. An ebook is a resource-intensive project, but the result can pay dividends to your content direction. An ebook with chapters has built-in divisions for an email campaign, not to mention each chapter can turn into one or more blog posts with supplementary rich media -- videos, infographics -- that in turn can be used for subsequent email campaigns.
Step 6: Enable Tracking.
Alright, we’re almost done! Tracking is the cherry on top of your email marketing sundae. Your emails are now configured to send responsively and at the pace of your choosing. How do you improve engagement and increase email conversions? Your good friend, the email tracker.
Tracking and obtaining performance analytics is how you optimize email campaigns and marketing assets based on what works with which segments. The possibilities are nearly endless, and you can adapt subject lines, preheader text, email templates, content design, calls to action, and landing pages through A/B tests and analysis over time.
Here are a few metrics you’ll definitely want to track as the backbone of your email campaign optimization:
1. Unique Open Rate -- This tracks the number of distinct recipients who’ve opened your email. This is a separate metric than Total Opens, which includes multiple opens by the same recipient.
2. Click-through Rate -- Your click-through rate measures the number of recipients who click one or more links in the email, which bring them to a landing page on your website. Generally, the more clicks, the better. In practice, click-through rates can vary greatly per industry and by the nature of the campaign.
3. Click-to-Open Rate -- This metric divides the number of unique clicks by the number of unique opens to tell you the percentage of recipients who both opened the email and actually clicked a link. This gives you a sense of how well your content is actually performing with the people who see it.
4. Bounce Rate -- The bounce rate measures the rate at which your emails are rejected by email servers. There are two types of bounces -- hard and soft. A hard bounce usually occurs as the result of non-existent or invalid email addresses. A soft bounce can indicate recipient’s inbox is over quota or the email message is too large. High bounce rates are a sign you should trim your email list of unproductive addresses or use confirmation emails to ensure subscribers actually want to subscribe.
5. Unsubscribe Rate -- This is the rate at which recipients are unsubscribing from your email campaign. Unsubscribe rates vary by industry, but generally anything over 1% means you should look to provide more value in your content, improve the quality of your contact list, optimize the frequency of your emails, and better segment your list.
6. Spam Complaint Rate -- A high spam complaint rate is a sign your recipients don’t see value in your emails. This should concern you in particular because an excessive complaint rate may result in your account being disabled by email marketing service providers. Different providers specify different acceptable spam complaint rates, but it’s generally very low -- perhaps no more than .1%.
You should be able to track these metrics, and more, using your email marketing service provider and Google Analytics.
Step 7: Send!
Congratulations! You've created an email marketing campaign. Now it's time to send your emails. You might hit a homerun on your first campaign, but don’t be discouraged if it’s a dud -- we learn more from our failures than our successes. Segment your lists, study campaign performance, make alterations, test your emails against one another, and every day you’ll get a little closer to your goals.
Looking for a marketing solution with email marketing capability? Check out our comparison guide for marketing automation providers.